On social media, everybody has an opinion. It’s a good thing. But when you share what matters to you on different platforms, you have to get used to the fact that you will not only get positive reactions on what you throw out there. Some of the critics are negators that always see something bad in everything, but some people’s critical view on what you do and think can be very valuable. It makes you rethink your actions and ideas. And that’s a good thing.
“Beach clean-ups are a total waste of time!”
When we post something about a beach clean-up that we did, we often get comments that state that cleaning beaches is not helpful in the fight against plastic pollution. “You need to teach people not to litter” or “You are just taking care of the symptoms, not of the actual problem”. I have also read a statement on somebody else’s post that said:
“If you clean up after them, they will never learn not to litter”.
The first natural reaction that I often go through is a feeling of annoyance. We did something good, why are people not appreciating what we did? Why are people so negative? Then I usually let it sink in for a bit and try to gain some distance from my first “belly-reaction”. I try to figure out why I am unhappy about those kinds of reactions. It probably is because I sense that there might be some truth about what they are writing.
When I am totally honest with myself, I have to admit that I have thought these exact same things before: picking up marine trash has often felt like Sisyphos trying to push that ball up the hill. We cleaned an island and the next day, we already collected a full bag of plastic bottles in just one hour again.
“Wow, this is super frustrating!”
Surely something that I have felt before. We watched so many people sitting on the beach, eating and drinking and when they get up and go home, they leave behind a massive pile of single-use plastic cups and plates, plastic bottles and beer cans. We keep on cleaning, they keep on littering.
“Hey, let’s take some collecting bags and go for a sunset beach clean-up!”. It’s Sunday, our boats Joana and Karl are happily swinging on a mooring in the brackish water of a river mouth in Bahía Caraquez, Ecuador. We hop in the dinghi and zoom over to the floating dock. “No, thanks, we don’t need a plastic bag”, Maria stores the Corona bottles in her waterproof backpack.
When we get to the beach that we planned to clean we notice that we forgot to take one thing into account: the tide. The water is at its highest level and the waves are crashing into the rocks just below the concrete wall of the promenade. The beach is totally submerged. What are we again? Sailors? Yeah, right, nice one, girls…
We sit down and open a beer and watch the sun starting to set on the horizon. We think about abandoning our mission. Drinking beer and watching the sunset is quite nice, too.
“Okay, let’s give it a try. I am sure we can collect something.”
And of we go, staggering through the big rocks, picking up cups, food containers, small and big pieces of rope. “Aaaaaaay” I shout out like a little girl. A massive wave got me and I am completely drenched. Maria giggles and gives me a look that says: ” This was not my idea…”.
We feel a little uncomfortable. Not only did we do really bad on the timing for the tide…We should have picked another day of the week. Many people are out and about enjoying the tranquil Sunday evening. We have all of their eyes on us. “Weird gringas, picking up other people’s trash.” is what we read in their eyes.
A young boy shily looks at me, holding up a piece of a styrofoam food container. “Si, claro, muchas gracias” and I open the bag for him so he can throw in his plastic trash. “Porque nadie les ayuda?” he asks me, wondering why nobody is helping us. Two of his friends are joining us and their mothers are waving at us, giggling.
Our trash buddies help us for a good half hour and we sit down with all of them afterward and chat a little bit. One of the moms has relatives in Switzerland and she is marveling about the clean streets over there. “Not one item of trash, nothing!” And it’s true, in Switzerland, you can eat from the street, that’s how clean it is.
“What you do here is great! More people should do this. Too many people here don’t care about pollution the environment. You show them that this is not okay. Thanks for doing this! It’s not even your country”.
My heart gets flushed with a warm wave and a big smile spreads on my face from ear to ear. “Gracias a tí!” They don’t even know how grateful I am. For those boys to join our clean-up but even more for her words. Next time I read a comment that says that beach clean-ups don’t change a thing, I will recall this moment and just get back at them with a smile:
“I disagree. In my opinion, they make a hell of a difference!”